The Colorado Avalanche is a team that has built its core primarily through the NHL entry draft. Names like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon are just some of the household names the Avalanche drafted who have turned into top caliber NHL talent. However, the Avalanche have selected multiple players that are no longer in the organization only to find that players that were selected later in the draft have become top NHL talent.
The Avalanche entered the 2004 NHL Draft with the 21st overall pick and with this pick they selected Wojtek Wolski. At over six feet tall and weighing 215 pounds Wolski was a big body forward with excellent speed. He first made the Avalanche roster during the 2005-2006 season and played for them for the next four-plus seasons.
Wolski seemed to be one of the players of the future for the Avalanche. From 2005 to 2010 he would play 302 games as a member of the Avalanche and in that time he produced 193 points. When the trade deadline day for the 2009-2010 season came around Wolski had produced a solid 47 points. Later that day Wolski found himself as a member of the Phoenix Coyotes after a trade that brought Peter Mueller and Kevin Porter to the mile high city. Wolski had a solid run with the Avalanche yet the organization decided to go a different way.
The biggest highlight to Wolski’s game seemed to be his shootout ability. His patience with the puck and stick handling ability made it tough for any goaltender he faced.
Wolski has since made stops with several eastern conference teams but currently finds himself out of the NHL, playing instead in the KHL.
When the Avalanche selected Wolski. a defenceman that stood six-foot and weighed nearly 200 pounds was still available. Eight picks after the Avalanche took Wolski the Washington Capitals selected Mike Green.
Since that draft day in 2004, Green has played 575 regular season games and they have all been for the team that drafted him.
The biggest question for the Avalanche over the past two seasons, despite showing great improvement, has been on the defensive side of the puck. Green now finds himself as a UFA-to-be, now that the Capital’s season is over, and he was logging mostly third-pairing minutes with fellow veteran Tim Gleason. Still, having a guy spend over ten years with the same organization is something the Capitals can and should be proud of.
Had the Avalanche selected Green instead of Wolski back in 2004 it is hard to say how things would look for the Avalanche now. If given a do-over it is a safe bet the Avalanche would have looked at selecting Green with the 21st pick.
This year the Avalanche were selecting 18th overall and used this pick to grab big-body forward Chris Stewart. A player who was willing to defend his teammates and had a scoring touch to his game. Yes, it is true that Stewart came to the Avalanche right before what some consider to be the darkest days in the organization, but as a top-20 draft pick the pressure is going to be there to produce. Stewart made the Avalanche lineup during the 2008-2009 season which top to bottom was a disaster for the team.
Stewart’s’ time with the Avalanche after being a top-20 pick only lasted from 2008 to 2011. After playing in only 36 games of the 2010-2011 season, Stewart was involved in the blockbuster trade of the season. Along with Kevin Shattenkirk and a second-round pick, Stewart went to St. Louis, who sent Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a first-round pick back to Denver. Stewart’s lack of production caused the Avalanche to make a move and it would not be the last time he would be traded.
After time in St Louis, Stewart was traded to a Buffalo Sabres team that was in full rebuild mode. Again a blockbuster deal, Stewart was just one part of a trade that also included Steve Ott and Ryan Miller. After only 66 games as a member of the Sabres, Stewart was on the move again, being sent back to the western conference to join the Minnesota Wild.
Stewart now has 463 games of NHL regular-season experience, along with 27 games of playoff-game experience. In all those games Stewart is credited with 272 points and 553 penalty minutes.
Again, hindsight being 20/20 would prove to the Avalanche they missed out on a big name guy that has become a staple in the league and a team captain.
The Philadelphia Flyers held the 22nd pick in the draft that season and just four picks after the Avalanche took Stewart the Flyers selected Claude Giroux. Similar to Green, Giroux has played in only the Flyers organization since the day he was drafted nine years ago. Giroux got his first NHL action during the 2007-2008 season, when he played two games. Since 2008, only a partial season lockout has resulted in Giroux being on the ice wearing a jersey that does not feature the Flyer logo.
In his time with the Flyers Giroux has played in 553 NHL regular season and the playoff games. Giroux is nearly a point-per-game player, with 511 points. In January of 2013 Giroux was named captain of the Flyers. He is the 19th captain in the organization’s history and it is easy to see why the Flyers choose Giroux to don the captain’s C.
What It Means
The fact of the matter is that every team in the NHL has made poor choices in the draft. Anybody can look at any team and find instances where a team made a choice that let a great player get away. For example, Pekka Rinne was a seventh round pick in the 2004 draft selected 258th over all. How many teams would like another chance to bring Rinne to their club?
Nothing guarantees if the Avalanche had selected Green or Giroux that they would both still be with the organization but it is fun to imagine how things would be different if they had. This year the Avalanche hold the tenth-overall pick in the draft. Avalanche faithful hope whoever the Avalanche select is a member of the team for many years to come and this draft does not leave the Avalanche wondering what could have been.
I am a University of New Mexico journalism student who has been watching NHL hockey since 1996 and I started playing hockey myself in 2003. I have covered both college soccer and volleyball in the past and I also contribute to a NASCAR news website.